Scott Cunningham, Solitaries, and Self-Initiation

When Wicca first emerged into the public eye in the 1950s, it was strictly a initiatory mystery religion. If you wanted to be a Witch, you needed to be initiated by Gerald Gardner himself, or by someone who had been given an initiation by him. When other traditions emerged, Alexandrian, 1734, the ethos of initiation by an already initiated High Priest or Priestess remained intact. In those early years many “traditional” Witches took a dim view of “bootstrap” attempts to start new traditions, and the notion of self-initiation. Author and Gardnerian elder Raymond Buckland was initially scornful of such groups, which he felt were harming the Craft, as documented in Chas Clifton’s “Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.”

“It says much for the success of Gerald Gardner in obtaining recognition for the Craft as a religion, for its imitators are those who, unable to gain access to a coven, have decided to start their own. These do-it-yourself “witches” would, on the face of it, seem harmless but on closer scrutiny are not so. They are causing considerable confusion to others who, seeking the true, get caught up in the false… These “covens” [in both Britain and the United States] spreading like chicken-pox have no association with “the Craft.” Why do people start such “covens”? Why not wait and search? For some it is just that they have no patience. They feel so strongly for the Craft that they must participate in some way. By the time they eventually do come in contact with the true Craft it is too late. They are by then so set in their own rites and, unfortunately, have other whom they have led along, they they cannot back down. Some, however, are merely in search of fame and fortune.”

Buckland’s view, written circa 1970 and shared by many other Elders, would change dramatically by 1974 when he introduced his own tradition of Seax-Wicca, one that included the assertion that self-initiation could be valid (a growing consensus among many prominent modern Pagans and Wiccans). Between the introduction of feminist Goddess-traditions, the emergence of eclectic Wiccan traditions like the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, and the shifting attitudes of Traditional elders like Buckland and Doreen Valiente, the ground on the issue of self-initiation and solitary practice had moved considerably. That said, Witchcraft traditions, and the coven structure, whether old or newly created, was still the primary vehicle for growing Wicca despite a rising number of self-initiated solitary Wiccans. Then, in the late 1980s, something, someone, happened.

That something was the 1989 publication of Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner,” a book that literally introduced a new generation to Wicca, and helped change the face of modern Paganism.

Cover art by Robin Wood.

Cover art by Robin Wood.

To say the response to this book was immense is to do it a disservice. It has sold over 400,000 copies (by the year 2000), and is still in print today (by contrast, Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance,” published ten years earlier, sold around 350,000 copies by 2000). That scale is important to note in a publishing industry that usually sees sales in the low thousands for many titles. Cunningham’s book tapped into a growing need within the Wiccan/Witchcraft community, one for a simple guide for those who couldn’t find a coven, or couldn’t find a one that they felt comfortable with. While the ethos of self-initiation had become normalized by the 1980s, most books were still aimed at groups, and many felt frustrated in learning to piece together a practice that worked for them. Cunningham’s books happened at just the right place and time, and helped fuel the coming boom of Wicca (and modern Paganism) in the 1990s.

Now, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig has published a short ebook on the life of Scott Cunningham, whom he lived with for six years, and counted as a close friend. Entitled “The Magical Life of Scott Cunningham,” it promises to give us a glimpse into the man who changed the face of religious Witchcraft.

Scott Cunningham

Scott Cunningham

“Before Scott, Wicca was primarily passed on within the coven structure. In order to become a Wiccan you had to find a coven and study with them. If you couldn’t find a coven, or there was no coven near you, well, you were just out of luck. Scott’s book, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, gave instructions on how any individual could come to love the Goddess and become a Wiccan. In the years that followed, Solitary Wicca became the primary way most people entered the Craft. Scott didn’t denigrate the coven structure, he simply gave an alternate approach to Wicca and made it available to all. It’s rare that the actions of one person change the world, and even more rare that such changes can be seen. Scott Cunningham was such a person. [...] In the book I also share some of our experiences together so you will learn not just where he was born and what he did, but what he was like. I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

Cunningham tragically died in 1993 from an AIDS-related illness, a mere four years after his breakthrough success, but long enough to start to see how much his work impacted the community of which he was a part. Too little has been published about Cunningham, and Kraig’s short work, available for only $1.99 on Amazon, is a needed corrective. One that will no doubt be cited by authors and scholars for years to come. I’ve already purchased my copy, and look forward to reading it.

Cunningham’s work has changed us, and grown us, into what we are today. He not only changed Wicca, but also changed the larger ethos of the Pagan community itself. Today a vast majority of Pagans are solitary in their practice, and a slim majority describe themselves as eclectic. Books like “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner” provided an affirmation that this was acceptable, healthy, and normal. In an era of social networking on the Internet, the utility of Cunningham’s work is ever-more apparent. Many of us are connected with hundreds, even thousands, of our fellow Pagans, but we are still solitary practitioners when it comes time to light the candles and honor the gods.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com/ Vermillion

    I remember went I first bought this book. I was 16 and on a day trip out from the hospital I was currently in, I walked back and forth by it a number of times, wanting to pick it up but still very very shy to do so. Eventually I had to put up or shut up as they say so I quickly grabbed it, placed another magazine on top of it to hide that I was buying it and checked out.  Came home and read the whole thing and was like “OHHHHHHHHHHH!”

    I’m older now and there are things that I don’t really agree with anymore but I can’t dispute the impact the book has had on my life. I’ve always wondered more about the man who wrote it so thanks to Mr. Kraig for his e-book!

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I must confess, I am ‘old school’ on this matter.

    If you haven’t been initiated ‘properly’, then you are not genuinely a practitioner.

    If you see a system you kind of like the look of, but don’t feel it is quite right, create your own, don’t misuse the label.

    • kenneth

      Initiation comes through and with God and Goddess, not through whatever fools think they own the exclusive contract to represent them or grant access to them. 

      • Mia

         I don’t recall Wiccans ever saying they own the exclusive contract to deities. Nothing about the lineage custom has anything to do with that. Besides, last I checked, Wiccans become Wiccans because they’re drawn to the religion and philosophy of Wicca, rather than anything regarding deities. Obviously you don’t have to be Wiccan to worship deities.

        You want to be part of a group, then you’ll have to play by their rules, at least initially. Same thing goes for jobs, clubs, government bodies, and homes/families. It was well within Gardner’s right to intend for his religion to be passed down through lineages, and I don’t understand why anyone still gets upset about that. If you don’t want to follow Gardner’s intentions, then don’t. There’s no Wicca police going around to check everyone’s initiation papers.

        • kenneth

          That’s the rub for me. As much as I try to honor Gardner for his role, it never was “his religion.” I agree with part of what I think you’re driving at. If someone wants to claim to be “of the (fill in the blank)” lineage, then of course that’s not something you can self-initiate. When it comes to particular trad and lineages, you either belong to them according to their customs and practices or you do not. They have no standing to decide who has the right to be Wiccan. 

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

             Actually, it was “his religion”.
            He created it. It isn’t like it is some ancient, unbroken historical form of witchcraft.

            Easy enough to be a witch, but a Wiccan? Well, that is something Gardner made up.

            As Mia said, Gardner’s Wicca (actually more a magical system than a religion, really), is not the only way to communicate with the gods. It is easy enough to go another way.

          • kenneth

            I wouldn’t say Gardner “made up” Wicca so much as he gave form and a public identity to a type of occult practice which was drew on centuries of Western esoteric traditions (though not ancient intact witchcraft).  It was something ready to be borne, and Gardner happened to be the midwife, as it were. 

             He was a seminal figure in the religion, but not the point of the religion. He was not a messiah nor even really a prophet in the usual sense. He wasn’t even around for very long after going public. Wicca had to live or die on its own merits, and it lived and grew and became something much bigger than the seed Gardner planted. It evolved. ALL of Wicca “has gone another way.” A million different ways, many of which are as true to the spirit of the enterprise as Gardner. Even those who practice within traditional lineages and initiations are not doing it the same way Gardner was in all respects. None, it’s very safe to say, are English nudists who came of age in Edwardian times. The role of lineage in identity can be re-cast in other terms. We would agree that Americans who descend from signers of the Declaration have a special link to our nation’s past. Very few would say that they are the only “real” Americans! 

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

             The only ‘real’ Americans live on reservations. Just saying.

            Gardner invented Wicca. It really is that simple. Sure, he ripped off a load of preceding stuff (just like most other systems, so no faulting him there), but what he codified and named was his own.

          • Henry

            heh, according to the contemporary pagan scholars, it was his religion doncha know?
            there were no witches before gardner doncha know?
            ” If you wanted to be a Witch, you needed to be initiated by Gerald Gardner himself, or by someone who had been given an initiation by him.”
            Don’t you follow the party line? lol

          • Guest

             “doncha know”? really?

          • Gareth

            There were certainly people who were alleged to be witches and perhaps some that called themselves such but there was certainly no religion of witchcraft

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

             There is a difference between a Wiccan and a witch. Regardless of how much some would like to believe the two are synonymous.

          • Henry

            To Leoht:
            “There is a difference between a Wiccan and a witch. Regardless of how much some would like to believe the two are synonymous.”
            That’s part of the problem.
            To Gareth: I don’t consider witchcraft a religion. Considering it as such is also part of the problem.

          • Mia

            It just sounded like you were reading way more into the initiation process than necessary, which simply adds more irritation to a useless fire.

      • Cathryn Meer Bauer

         THANK YOU!  I gave up far too much power to Christianity (continuing to do so long after I was old enough to know better, I might add) in my life to permit the same thing to happen with any Pagan group or teacher.  My experience with one group in the SF Bay Area showed me that I am constitutionally incapable of that happening again.  For several years when I first became a Pagan, my primary spiritual practice was organic gardening.  Before our cross-country move necessitated by a great job offer for my husband, I did find a small group that had great respect for personal experience and belief.  This little patch of Druids had the ring of the genuine to me, and the group has remained the model for me as I look into possibilities here in the Chesapeake Bay region.

        If they tell me I don’t or shouldn’t feel or perceive it, I’m out of there.  If they give themselves grandiose Craft names, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it could be a signal that there is a lot of use of the group to feel personally important; something that says danger, danger, danger to me.   One aspect of a group I’ve found to be very telling is its attitude toward disability.  IMO it says volumes if a group does not take this into account in planning. 

        I don’t HAVE to be in a group.  If the only alternative is to be in something that leaves me uneasy, I don’t need to give it my energy just to be with others.  I think we all at some level need to be solitary, that ultimately, it’s all about our relationship with deity and our connection to the earth and sky, not being in a group for the sake of being in a group. 

        • Guest

           There’s some wonderful groups of people in Southern Md. 

          • Cathryn Meer Bauer

             Exactly right.  And other parts, too.  I recommend the Central Maryland Pagan Meetup Group.  Very interesting, intelligent group of folks that is too far away for me to attend regularly, sigh.

    • WitchDoctorJoe

      I don’t think one can “self-initiate,” I think that there is a critical difference between “initiation” and “self-dedication.” Initiation is a rite of passage into a group, and self-dedication would seem self evident and self explanatory. I think one needs to be “properly” initiated into a particular Tradition, and can self-dedicate to a solitary and or eclectic path. But anyone who practices genuinely is a genuine practitioner. 

      • Guest

         Excellent definitions.  Initiation involves both a physical ritual and joining a group of people.  People who will know what you’ve promised / declared, similar to how witnesses gets required sometimes in legalities. Those others keep a connection with the individual after the ritual is over.
        Initiations may not appeal to everyone.
        Self-dedication doesn’t require those. 

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Actually, in many traditions true initiation is only given on the Astral, and those who bestow the Initiation are not corporate. This is a well documented phenomenon among Shamanic (in the strict sense) traditions. At least in some cases, “self-initiation” is just an attempt (and in most cases probably a futile one) to “cut out the middle men” and to go directly to the Source. My own opinion is that if one is unable to contact and develop relationships with corporate adepts on the physical plane, then one has little chance of getting very far on the Astral. You will almost certainly attract the attention of some Beings, but probably not the ones you had in mind. Nevertheless, in theory it is certainly possible.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Actually, in many traditions true initiation is only given on the Astral, and those who bestow the Initiation are not corporate. This is a well documented phenomenon among Shamanic (in the strict sense) traditions. At least in some cases, “self-initiation” is just an attempt (and in most cases probably a futile one) to “cut out the middle men” and to go directly to the Source. My own opinion is that if one is unable to contact and develop relationships with corporate adepts on the physical plane, then one has little chance of getting very far on the Astral. You will almost certainly attract the attention of some Beings, but probably not the ones you had in mind. Nevertheless, in theory it is certainly possible.

        • Guest

           AP, I think if no Astral is reached, but at the end they’re accepted part of the group, they may have accomplished the initiation, but not the ritual. But the Astral is a connected part of this world, and this is why fellow physical beings often matter.
          I’m all for the idea of going to Source (and source texts if available in a language one can read, as many are, and many are free), but being with a whole group working with Source, that can bring initiation ritual.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          But what if the Source just whaps you upside the head one sunny afternoon?

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            But what if the Source just whaps you upside the head one sunny afternoon?

            I hate it when the Source does that.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            One can become a Source-junkie.

        • Deborah Bender

          I’ve had experience with both aspects of this question of self-initiation vs. initiation into a group.

           I looked for witches or a teacher as a child without finding any being, corporal or not, to instruct me. I found a pagan community as a young adult and within a couple of years organized a non-initiatory bootstrap Dianic coven. Around the time it disbanded, I designed a solitary initiation ritual for myself, went into trance on sacred ground,  addressed (a/the) goddess and called upon noncorporate beings whom I believed to be present to witness the rite. I set the situation up, but I was responding to a call I had been feeling for years.

          Most people to whom I have reported this say I was performing a self-dedication, but I intended it as an initiation, and it had the psychological effects of an initiation: I felt a change in my identity, I felt as if I were joining a group (the witches, living and dead), I acquired knowledge and occult power that were new to me, and the change was lasting and noticeable to others.

          Within a few years after that, I was initiated into the lineaged bootstrap Craft tradition Jason cited (NROOGD) and later I received NROOGD’s Red Cord initiation, which equates to Second Degree in British Gardnerian practice.

          Subequently, I have received several degrees of initiation into two other Craft traditions and a ceremonial magic tradition which claim longer lineages than NROOGD’s. Most of these initiations into groups taught me something or shifted my awareness and development in directions I would not have taken on my own. Based on my experience, lineaged groups and secret, controlled initiations are valid and valuable. But none of these later initiations was as powerful for me as the one I did for myself, with the help of those on the other side.

      • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

         Who created the first group? I detect a catch-22 here.

        Who made the first Wiccan? How was that person different than all others?

        • kenneth

          That whole system is a carryover from Christianity. The only way to have a valid ordination was to be “made” by a guy who was made by a guy and so on who can trace their lineage back to the apostles. 

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Gerald  Gardner created the first group, having been initiated into other traditions beforehand.

          How was he different? Well, he was the originator. Everything has to have a point of origin.

          • Genexs

             True,  Leoht. One advantage Wiccan’s have is that they know who their creator was, warts and all.

    • Cathryn Meer Bauer

      And exactly who are you to tell me or anyone else that we are not “genuinely a practitioner?”  I understand your concern about misuse of labels; it is never pleasant to see one’s teachings and message misused.  Possibly if you had spoken from the context of your own tradition, e.g., “You can’t be seen as a genuine practitioner in XXX without having gone through these steps,” your comment would have some validity.  

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

         Me, I am no one of any consequence, merely adding my tuppence worth on the subject.

        Man creates a magical system, others like the idea and copy it. Is a ‘fake Rolex’ the same as a ‘real’ one?

        (It is not a insulting point, I have known plenty of ‘fake Rolexs’ work better than the ‘real thing’.)

        My point is in the name, not the practitioners.

    • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

       Because the valid initiations must go back to… Gerald Gardner who made it all up?

      • http://twitter.com/nycflame Phoenix

        Define made it all up…

        • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

           So no other human in the world could ever replicate what Gardner did?

          What a circumscribed world you are in.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

             Replicate? Certainly. However, they can’t create what he did. He has that ‘honour’ by being the one to do it.

          • Genexs

             You know, flogging the ranting Christians who came in a few posts ago was fun. But  you have become  tiresome–fast.

          • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

            Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know my role was to entertain you.

        • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

          Are you a lawyer?
          He invented it, fabricated a fake history, and wrote all the rituals. In other words, “made it up.”

          • http://twitter.com/nycflame Phoenix

            The problem I have with the phrase “made it all up” is that it gives the impression that he created Wicca out of whole cloth by himself which he didn’t as he borrowed heavily from others (Crowley, Masonry, etc) while the particular view of history  he espoused came from Margret Murry.
             

          • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

            The real point is that his history of finding an ancient witch cult, which he was then initiated into and passed on, was a complete fabrication. He cobbled together something interesting and (obviously) workable from bits and pieces and passed it off as an ancient tradition. Thus, arguing about initiation vs self-dedication is kind of silly.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

         Pretty much, yes.

        It really is that simple.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Al: “Gerald Gardner who made it all up?”

        First of all you are confusing “ritual” with the whole of a tradition. Second of all the accusation that Gardner “made it all up” usually alternates with the accusation that he plagiarized. Actually he probably did some of both. In fact, all ritualists do a lot of both.

        Third of all, the stuff that Gardner “cribbed” from is called Ceremonial Magic, and that particular Tradition can be traced back at least to the 12th Century in Western Europe, and much further if we go to Byzantium, where Proclean Theurgy never went out of style.

        That’s enough for now. There’s more if you’re up for it.

        • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

          When you start pointing out verifiable history and not your personal beliefs, I’ll pay more attention. You and I have done this dance before. There is no continuous pagan tradition before the revival once it died out. I know you refuse to believe this but the theurgy of Proclus is a far care from 20th century Neopaganism. The only surviving inheritor of Neoplatonism was the Catholic Church and I think, by definition, it wasn’t a living pagan tradition.

        • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

          Oh, and quit pretending “Ceremonial Magic” is some kind of cohesive capital-T “Tradition” of practice. It is a hodge podge of inherited material, largely passed down through books and then revived, in part, by later readers with some personal inspiration. Compare that with living ear to mouth spiritual traditions from other parts of the world that actually have systems of thought and magic passed from person to person with no break. Apples and oranges.

          • Genexs

             Yes, and that religion was invented by somebody, just like Wicca was.

          • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

            Yes, but I trust a living tradition passed from person to person for a thousand or more years over one made up by a British nudist and customs clerk… The point being is that the traditions in the West were broken and dead, revived only from fragments written in books combined with inspiration.

          • http://www.openbuddha.com/ Al Jigong Billings

            Besides, I know who invented my religion too and it was over 2,600 years ago. :-)

          • Genexs

             Al Jigong Billings,
            Well, good for you dewd. Nice to have my religion slammed by someone so enlightened as yourself.
            Oh, and thanx. I now understand Buddhism more, as I trust you are a prime example of the faith.

          • kenneth

            Ancient provenance by itself confers no special legitimacy on anything. Slavery and rape as a tool of war are unbroken traditions for hundreds of thousands of years. For all that longevity, I don’t place much faith in them as needles for my moral or spiritual compass….

            The availability or lack of an “unbroken tradition” is meaningless to paganism because its power lies in the ability to connect with the divine through the natural world. It is the default factory-loaded spiritual operating system of the human spirit. Organized traditions and lore and priesthoods can augment that, or stand in the way of it. They serve their roles in particular cultures for particular times, but they are not the power behind it or the only road, by far, to access it.

             Paganism, if we define it as the deep yearning to connect to divine in an ecstatic, experiential way, IS unbroken in a very real sense. No religious or political regime has ever been able to purify itself of pagan belief and practice. No system has been able to eradicate it even after systematically suppressing it for a dozen centuries at a time. 

            Paganism rolls with the punches, plays dead as it splices itself into the very DNA of the aggressor religion and culture, and then springs back like a field of wildflowers the moment the oppression’s poison weakens or gets spread thin.

             Paganism has the inherent beauty and power of a sunset or a mother’s love. Neither thing is an “unbroken” tradition. We will never know with any accuracy how the first people saw the first sunset or experience matronly love. Even if we did, we could never recreate it the same way. Our experience of these things, if we retain any humanity, is instinctual and no less authentic for having “made it up”. 

          • LeohtSceadusawol

             It isn’t about trusting a ‘religion’ or how valid one is, simply because of age or historical authenticity.

            It is about the name. There was no religion or magical ‘Tradition’ called ‘Wicca’ before Gardner created it (with or without substantial plagiarism).

            As such, Gardner created it. That is the point of origin of Wicca.

            It’s not like he took an existing name and used it to describe his own system (which we could accuse Iolo Morganwg of doing), after all.

          • Crystal Kendrick

             Just for clarity’s sake can we stop conflating Wicca with all of Neopaganism please?  You’re not the only one to do it but still it makes the discussion very very fuzzy.

        • Guest

           AP – Mostly stuff popular with the Golden Dawn and Thelema.

  • Thelettuceman

    Like many of my generation, my journey started with Cunningham’s work.  I was given ‘Earth Power’ when I was in middle school as a way to possibly cope with a death.  While I never  identified as Wiccan (at all) it helped set me on my path to try to find some personal gnosis and sustainable spirituality.  While my personal journey is far from complete, I am indebted to Cunningham for his part in opening up the *idea* of an individual study of Paganism into the mainstream.  His death WAS tragic and I wonder, truly, what further impact this man could have had on the community had he remained with us. 

  • Whitewith62

    this mad me cry, goddess I loved him

  • Harry

    As a solitary practitioner of some kind of non-denominational Ne0-Pagan religion, I have to say that if a religion has initiation as one of its criteria for being a member, I respect that. Even when my practice was largely scraps of internet Neo-Wicca that I hoarded, magpie-style, I would never have dared to call myself a Wiccan. 

    My path is now drifting more towards ADF, and I’ve begun incorporating the liturgy  which has been made available online into my practice. But before I’ve joined the organisation and started on the training programs it’s hardly appropriate to call my religion ADF. Different religions have different entry rules, and there’s a spectrum. For many of the less organised Neo-Pagainsms, all one need do is declare that they are a member of the religion. For Christianity, it’s believing in Jesus as Saviour and being baptised (which can be done by anyone – desperate parents often ask a doctor or nurse to baptise a dying newborn in hospital – so needn’t involve a priest). For other religions, such as Judaism or Wicca, the conversion is a lengthy process that takes years, and requires explicit approval of entry by respected members of the religion.

    To me, making sure I fulfil the criteria for claiming a label before I actually claim it is a basic matter of respect.

    • Harry

      Edit, I seem to have written Ne0 instead of Neo in the first line of my comment. Silly mistake.

      • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

        And *BAM* just created a new religion! Not looking forward to the flame-wars between Neo-Pagans and Ne0-pagans. 

        • PombairasPolly

           espeically when the NeO.O Pagans find out

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

           Just watch out for spoon references.

          • Guest

            Fork that. There is no spoon.

  • Donald Michael Kraig

    Scott passed on my birthday. I think it may have been his last joke for me…every time I had a birthday I’d also have to think of him.

    He needn’t have worried. I often think of Scott and wish he were still around. Thanks for mentioning my new eBook!

    • http://christine-ashworth.com/ Christine Ashworth

      Don, did we ever meet? I don’t think we did – but thank you for this book, I’m off to pick up a copy. I’d love to meet you sometime and have an afternoon of remembrance in Scotty’s honor…

      • http://christine-ashworth.com/ Christine Ashworth

        Whoops, sorry, I’m Scott’s sister…

  • Scott Wardzinski

    I still remember finding my way to his writings. When I was first starting out, there
    were no Wiccans in the area, and as a minor at the time, made it even harder to find a teacher.

    I started at the tail end of the “pedigree” requirement to be Wiccan. I tried
    searching chat rooms for anything I could, but due to being solitary due to
    isolation, no one would give me the time of day.

    Then one time someone took pity on me and asked if I was serious about being Wiccan. I said I was and he simply said “Get Scott Cunningham’s two books on Wicca and go from there”.

    I never saw that person in the chat rooms again, but I owe them big.

    I have since moved on from Wicca to Druidry through the AODA, but I still call myself a
    Witch out of respect for my first teacher who also claimed the same title proudly, Scott Cunningham.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

     “Many are the wand-bearers, but few are the true Initiates.” Socrates said that concerning those who had gone through the formal intitation ceremonies of the full-blown Mysteries back in the day. But Socrates also insisted that undergoing initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries (in particular) was of potentially great benefit.

    • http://thehouseofvines.wordpress.com/ thehouseofvines

      Sorry, my friend but you’ve quoted that wrong. The original reads:

      ναρθηκοφόροι μὲν πολλοί, βάκχοι δέ τε παυροι

      Which makes it perfectly clear that Sokrates wasn’t speaking of the Eleusinian mysteries, but rather those of Dionysos. (Specifically as mediated through the Orphics, since he attributes this proverb to them.) The point is that many participate in the rites, but not everyone experiences the fullness of Bacchic frenzy.

      This might seem a pedantic quibble, especially since Dionysos had an important role in both the Lesser and Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, but it actually strikes at the heart of this argument. Ta Musteria could only be celebrated at Eleusis, the place of advent for sorrowing Demeter – if those rites were carried out anywhere else and by anyone other than the priestly family she gave them to, it was a profanation. However Bakcheia were much more fluid – they sprang up in many different places and times, often as a result of inspired itinerant priests entirely lacking in pedigree or connection to other Dionysians. The forms they took and themes expressed through the rites were similarly eclectic (though not  infinitely so, as they had to remain within the purview of the god) to the point where Ptolemy Philopator felt the need to codify the hieroi logoi and required conformity to this system of all thiasoi and initiators within his kingdom in an effort to curtail certain excesses of the cult. This was an unprecedented move on his part and not terribly successful as Dionysians are stubborn and great lovers of diversity – something the Roman Senate should have taken note of, as they attempted a similar crackdown just a short while later, with even less fruitfulness. 

      • Guest

        it is tres cool you’ve written books on these things. :)

  • Shakti_Luna

    This book changed my life, as well as Uncle Bucky big blue book. Cunningham really brought a personal connection to deity as readily attainable and for the people. His contributions.to our path are invaluable.

  • Kilmrnock

    Aye , like many here Cunninghams books were my intro to paganism , and my short foray into Wicca . I liked his books b/c they are gender nuetral . When first starting out i also read Starhawks books as well ……………felt her books were too heavily fem slanted , but did have good info otherwise . But to be truthful Scott Cunningham had a much larger influence on me at the biggining of my pagan Journey . My path has now morphed to CR /ADF Druid but i really owe my begining and first good information to our dearly departed Scott Cunningham .May he rest in the Summerlands Knowing he had such a large influence on our community as a whole , not just Wiccans .     Kilm 

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.joy.rose Elizabeth Rose

    Having done initiation from both sides, I can say there is something powerful that comes with a lineage. Something that I did not, at first, believe in, but now, having had the experience of “knowing” brothers, sisters & cousins from the lineage (merely by picking up that, energetically, we are somehow related, before we were ever introduced …”across a crowded room.” tralalala…), I have come to understand this “something” is quite real and valuable.

    I must also say that I would never have traded the experiences I had, nor the contributions I made to my community that would NOT have happened had I not chosen to “co-initiate” myself & my two coven sisters in ‘Our Lady of TriVia Coven. Which we did years before I connected with the Trad. group I now practice with. That group led to so many things and was so helpful to the three of us, I would never say “don’t do it.” If you can’t find a group and your desire is sincere, the gods WILL come. Just know there’s a lot you can learn from a tradition that’s been doing it for a long time & get that too, when you can.

    I “came out” when a lot of “elders” were “retired” from teaching, largely due to some nasty politics in the community. There was very little opportunity to find teachers and many of those were just not for me. When they bitch about “newbies” and “fluffy bunnies” I am quick to remind them that they have some responsibility in the existence of these categories and they were NOT available to help sincere seekers at the time. Now, the cat’s out of the bag, so while I hope that students who have not experienced the magic within a lineage will seek out that opportunity, I wouldn’t call what they do invalid simply because it’s not taking place within such a tradition. Still, there’s something about a trad…

  • No Bod E

    I started learning about Wicca on the net , mostly at about’s site. Cunningham’s  books were on the suggested reading list. I am glad I got them. While I, too,have followed a path that has led me to Druidry, I am most grateful for his work.

  • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

    Scott Cunningham’s Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner was my first Pagan book.  I think it’s good we finally get to see deeper into this man who has helped deeply shape the modern Pagan movement.

  • Moria Vulcanus

    Weird that Cunningham’s Guide is listed as coming out in 1989. I clearly remember New Year’s Eve of 1989 a friend loaned me his copy of this book (along with Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft). I consider that night my initiation because prior to that I had no idea an “organized” craft existed. Those books set me on my way. I had no idea how revolutionary Cunningham’s Guide was. Anyway, the book must have already been out in 1988 for my friend to have it that night.

  • http://www.lippsisters.com/ Deborah Lipp

    Scott was my insomnia buddy; I’d take advantage of the East Coast/West Coast time difference to phone when I couldn’t sleep.

    We often discussed initiation, and one time he said that self-initiation was “just as valid” as traditional initiation. I responded, “define ‘valid’.”

    If “valid” means “valid in the eyes of the Gods, then that’s between you and the Gods and obviously self-initiation can be as deep, as meaningful, as profoundly life-altering as any other initiation ceremony. If “valid” means “having passed the training criteria that precede initiation in XYZ tradition,” then, just as obviously, the self-initiate has no claim to validity. Definitions are important, words mean things.

    Scott had to concede I had a point. :D

    I prefer the term “dedication” to “self-initiation.” Since “initiation” tends to mean “into” something (a tradition, a group) and since self-initiation rituals tend to be about the relationship between the person and the God(s), I think “dedication” is more accurate.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       Pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter.

      You don’t need any tradition to forge a communication with the gods. Just the ability to listen as well as talk.

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    I wholeheartedly thank Scott Cunningham for his contribution to Wicca & Paganism.  Back when I was starting my Path in high school, “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner,” and his second book, were my first introductions as I lightly traipsed through the world of Solitary Wicca. 

    Since then, I have found my own Path with the Gods of the Sidhe, Brigit being my Matron.  And my Witchery being the Wild Witchery of the Fairy Faith.  I still, however, have all of his books, and “Earth Power,” as well as “Earth, Air, Fire, and Water,” are two of my utmost favorites that continually informs my work with the Elements.

    In terms of Self-Initiation, I have found it to be a great truth during my 16-year walk.  The Gods, though, are the Initiators for the heart that is ready and willing, but it is often the case that through developing our own talents and gifts are needed before the Gods can teach us more.


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